The Battle of Midway remembered

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
With the recent revival of Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" plan, we would be remiss if we did not take time to remember the anniversary of one of the most important naval battles of World War II.

The Battle of Midway took place June 4-7, 1942, six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, and involved an outnumbered U.S. Pacific fleet taking offensive Japanese forces by surprise. The battle is widely considered one of America's most decisive victories over Japan in World War II, and marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

U.S. forces in the Pacific were stationed at several locations during World War II, including Midway Island, a strategically located circular coral formation, or atoll, halfway between North America and Asia. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces focused on eliminating the U.S. presence at Midway, recognizing that the location of the atoll would provide them a forward outpost from which they could control future U.S. threats in the region.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet during World War II, devised a plan to capture the atoll involving a deceptive move toward Alaska, in order to draw U.S. attention to the Aleutian Islands, followed by an invasion of Midway. Once the U.S. Pacific Fleet responded to the invasion, it would be attacked by the superior Japanese Fleet waiting to the East of Honolulu.

Unfortunately for Admiral Yamamoto, U.S. intelligence was able to decipher Japan's JN-25 code, which led to the interception of a message that alerted them to the plan about a week in advance. Unlike at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. knew when and where Japanese forces would strike and even the approximate number of ships and planes that would be used.

Despite the information learned from the broken code, the U.S. was still outnumbered, and the Japanese had not lost a naval battle since the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in 1863. However, the U.S. Fleet had another advantage over the Japanese Fleet completely unrelated to the breaking of the JN-25 code: land-based aircraft.

The Army Air Force had four B-17 squadrons stationed on Midway, and the Marine Corps had 20 Brewster Buffaloes and seven Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats stationed there as well. Unlike the aircraft the Japanese would bring to the battle, these did not need to take off and land from an aircraft carrier; this meant that the Japanese were dependent upon their ships for air power while the U.S. was not.

On the day of the attack, the U.S. dispatched these aircraft while Japan's fleet was still 500 miles away. Catching the Japanese Fleet off guard, the U.S. was able to drop several bombs and launch a torpedo before the Japanese even reached the battle site.

The battle resulted in more Japanese losses than American, with Japan suffering the loss of 2,500 men, four aircraft carriers, a cruiser and approximately 292 aircraft.  The U.S. lost 300 men, one aircraft carrier, one destroyer and approximately 145 aircraft.

Although the Battle of Midway did not win the war in the Pacific, it was a major turning point in the U.S. fight against an enemy that had previously seemed impossible to defeat. The battle also marked a turning point in the way wars were fought at sea. After the Battle of Midway, large battleships were no longer considered the key to victory; aircraft carriers became more important as the significance of air power began to be recognized, paving the way for the United States Air Force to become an independent branch of service in 1947.

This week, exactly 72 years after the battle and 69 years after the end of World War II, I challenge you to take a moment to remember the brave service members who fought outnumbered against a better-equipped enemy that was widely considered to be invincible.

I challenge you to remember that your words, your actions and, sometimes more importantly, your inactions have the potential to reflect negatively not only on yourself, your family and your country, but also on the honorable memory of those heroic individuals.

Most importantly, and not only for this week, I challenge you to be the best Airman you can be.